A couple of days ago Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology posted a what if blog asking where, knowing what you now know, you might see yourself in an alternative world. To be clear, I have absolutely no regrets choosing entomology as a subject, and teaching and research as a career. I did, however, and still do, have some allied interests.
As I have mentioned before, I became interested in insects and their antics from a very early age, but I was also, from an equally early age a voracious reader, devouring books at a prodigious rate. I wasn’t fussy about genres, although I particularly enjoyed those with a historical flavour, Treasure Island, Ivanhoe, Lorna Doone, Biggles, Hornblower, and the works of H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, not just Sherlock Holmes, but also Sir Nigel and The White Company* to name but a few. I was also interested in Roman history, in fact I still am, and love reading detective fiction set in those times especially Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels. I come from a long line of civil engineers and from them seem to have inherited an interest in digging holes and making dams, and this, coupled with my interest in history, did make me fleetingly consider archaeology as a possible career. But it wasn’t to be, and in later years this turned into human archaeology of a sort, genealogy :-). This is probably one of the reasons why I find Edward Rutherford’s sweeping historical novels with their detailed family trees and thousand year time spans so fascinating.
As a teenager, before I was totally consumed by the flame of entomology, I fleetingly contemplated a possible career in medicine but at the same time really got into human origins and so palaeontology seemed a possible way to go. I was reminded of this a few years ago, when I was the external examiner for the Zoology degree at University College Dublin, but again it was not to be, and I ended up, without regrets, as an entomologist.
What I have discovered over the years is that I still love history, I love teaching and I love a good mystery. I have always wanted to know how things came to be, and, as my students will testify, my lectures always have a bit of history in them, nuggets about the early entomologists and ecologists and how the sub-disciplines arose as well as personal stories of how papers and lecturers inspired me. In some ways, this is a bit like archaeology as I quite often have to do a lot of digging and delving into the past, when, for example I am chasing down an elusive reference.
So, in answer to the question posed by Jeremy Fox, I would, if I hadn’t become an entomologist, love to have been an academic specialising in the history of science 🙂
If you haven’t read these but have read S M Stirling’s Change novels you won’t have realised that some of the characters in the Conan Doyle books appear to have jumped from the past into the future 🙂